Saturday, January 15, 2011

Distant Wars in Distant Lands

One of my daughters and her husband went to a viewing last night and will be at a memorial service and burial today. My son-in-law’s half-sister’s other half-brother (it’s complicated, as American family ties often are), 23 years old, killed in Afghanistan. He stepped on something that exploded, lost both legs, one arm, and his life.

Do you know anyone who has died in Afghanistan? Or in Iraq? Or even someone who fought there or is still fighting there? “Served/serving” are, I guess, the preferred words. But war is about fighting. It’s brutal, it’s violent – it kills.

The Iraq war has so far cost more than 4,000 American soldiers their lives (and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis). It’s not the only unnecessary war the United States has engaged in, in recent decades (Vietnam was another), and there will no doubt be others in the future. This has indeed been, as Bob Woodward and others have named it, “Bush’s War”, a war of vengeance against a dictatorial ruler who had years earlier wanted to assassinate the other President Bush. The idea of going to war against a country whose ruler we do not like is not new, but it is idiotic. And the cost is immeasurable.

The Afghan war resulted from the September 11, 2001 terror attacks with hijacked airplanes. Going after “the masterminds” was understandable (the planner was caught and awaits adjudication of his crime; the puppet master remains at large), but did we have to invade an entire country? Was it up to us to rout an even more miserable government than the one we later toppled in Iraq? I guess that collectively we like Afghanistan’s current corrupt government better than the zealous Taliban who were in charge before and who, ironically, shared ideologies with the mujahideen we supported in the Soviet Union’s invasion and oppression of Afghanistan. Friend-Enemy role reversal is easy when loyalties shift.

So far, 1,457 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan in the ten years since the U.S. and its coalition partners invaded the country; the young man being buried today is one of them, and the country, like Iraq, lies in ruins.

And for what? And who are they, these young Americans, so full of pride and honor, so patriotic, so dedicated to preserving our freedoms, our way of life, and so eager to take democracy and opportunity to other lands? Distant lands, where distant wars are being fought. Who knows someone who has died in Iraq or Afghanistan? I don’t, but I feel an enormous sorrow for the young man in that coffin today, and his family, and the dreams that will never be.